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'Becoming a forefront' think tank

On today's show, we have members of a Montana Think Tank talk about what lead up to the creation of the think tank as well as what topics of discussion take place.
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Across the U.S., there are nearly 2,000 think tanks. Each one addressing various needs in their local or regional area. But how many of them are established by Native Americans? How many of them approach their research from a Native perspective? 

 On today's show, we have Director of the American Indian Governance and Policy Institute, Heather Cahoon, Program Director of the Spirit Aligned Leadership Program, Gail Small, and Chairman of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana, Gerald Grey to talk about these issues. 

Some quotes from the show:

Heather Cahoon:

"If I wanted to found a nonprofit and do it that way, but the university offered some really critical components. One of which was the Indian law clinic. So there are a few Indian law clinics across the country. One of the top ones is at the University of Montana. And so I had access to that. So when I was there as faculty, you know, I could see different researchers in different fields doing various, you know, research that was relevant to American Indians, reservation, economies, public health issues, you know, just a really broad array of topics. So I also saw that the university and for that matter, the Montana university system as a whole had professional level of researchers who were doing relevant research to American Indians and in our communities. And so I thought, you know, with the Indian law clinic and that, you know, breadth of research going on, those expert researchers and then students really that was, you know, the right mix of ingredients. So I was, you know, really wanted to found the policy Institute at the university for those reasons."

"There was actually a really instrumental report that sort of triggered that paradigm shift for a lot of people in Montana. How Gail mentioned just a few minutes ago and it was compiled by Eleanor Yellow Robe and it, it just explored the economic contributions of the tribes in Montana. And if you looked at period of 2003 through 2009, and it found that over the course of those years, tribal governments just by virtue of their existence and their, you know, employing people, et cetera, brought in a billion dollars a year over a billion dollars a year collectively to the state's economy so that we are participating in crafting, you know, a statewide economy and what that looks like. And you know, I think that's probably one of the most poignant examples of how collecting data, you know, it can influence people's mindsets."

Gail Small: 

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"It's important that we seize the moment. You know, COVID, the pandemic has really changed the landscape across Indian country. So now we're looking at what policies are necessary for us to develop our economy and bring new stakeholders to the table. Oftentimes you find the stakeholders like banks, for example, they're very reluctant to lend on reservations. There, we have very few banks across Indian country. So the policies they want to see are like a uniform commercial code, which tribal governments have the sovereignty to an act. And that process, we were able to get a bank on Northern Cheyenne, our first bank, for example, similarly doing during COVID-19, you know, we're really struggling with food sovereignty. So I see a real need to look at the policies of all the federal public lands around or reservations and trying to access them. These were our ancestral lands, the Custer forest next to Northern Cheyenne."

"There's innovative thinking up here in Montana, you know, we've got you know, many Indian tribes, vast territory. Some of our reservations are as big as States, you know, where these large land-based tribes up here. And there's still a lot of culture and language. You know, what we have maintained here is very rich culturally, and I'd like people to see us as like not standalone, but you know, we want to work with you, right. We can share and partner our knowledge base. Like I was on the the thing Jane really that created the NCAI think tank. We were we met for about a year and creating that think tank. And I think there's other opportunities besides the structure of how existing think tanks are set up. I'd like us to really look at traditional knowledge. You know, climate change is a big issue we're dealing with right now with Biden appointing you know, Carrie as the czar, the climate czar. So we can fit right into that, particularly with our knowledge of having lived in this land for generations upon generations, that knowledge is nowhere in Western science. It's discounted this Institute. We're hoping we'll lift that knowledge up on a par with Western science."

Gerald Grey: 

"Everything these days is data-driven. And I think with this Institute the tribes, because we're pulled in a lot of different directions you know, the tribal councils that we can then rely on Heather and this Institute to provide that data that's going to help you know, if we're applying for grants or such things as that throughout Indian country."

"There is a big shift in, within Indian country and, and your dates in terms of you know, any countries becoming this, you know, we're not, we're not just this afterthought anymore. We're becoming the forefront of a lot of different things that stakeholders across the country are now seeing that, Hey, wait a minute, we have a bigger voice here. And this goes across everything in terms of economics, housing education through Indian country. Yeah, for sure. It's a big movement."

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Patty Talahongva, Hopi, is the executive producer of Indian Country Today. She is also the anchor of the weekday newscast. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider